Year after year we, at one point or another, hear either from Roberto Luongo or management that Luongo needs to play a lot of games to play well. This year there was the radical notion that Cory Schneider was going to play as many as 25 games and all of a sudden there was worry that Luongo was going to suffer. Regardless, Gillis was determined to put the final touches on the Canucks this off-season, make the right tweaks, and take the team well past the second round; one thing he addressed: Luongo’s games played.
In his first four seasons with the Canucks, Luongo has averaged 68 games played in the regular season. In each season, we would then see him worn out going into the playoffs. On the one hand, the Canucks want to give him some rest in the regular season. On the other hand, Luongo would sometimes perform poorly after long breaks and then everyone resorts back to the point that he only plays well when he plays a lot of games.
True to Gillis’ plan, this season already seems different. Luongo was given the majority of work at the start of the season, even starting 9 consecutive games at one point. However, the emergence of Cory Schneider as a legitimate goaltender has lessened the pressure on Luongo. (The Canucks are still to lose a game in regulation in which Schneider has started.) Further to the point, when Gianni “Canuck” Luongo was born, Schneider played in 3 games in four nights instead of forcing Luongo to play after several trips to Florida and a few nights off.
While resistant to change at first, it seems that Luongo’s finally learning to play a different way. Starting what seems like an absurd amount of games per season is something Luongo has been doing since his days in Florida; he just didn’t know how to play any other way. It’s something that affects the mental side of the game as much as the physical side of it. That said, the addition of Rollie Melanson and the foresight Mike Gillis has really made a noticeable impact on Luongo this season. Luongo’s mental game looks drastically improved. Case in point was his 31-save performance in a gritty 2-1 win over the Avalanche. Whereas Luongo’s family issues have at times affected his play in the past – I speak directly to the birth of his first child which we saw affect his play down the stretch when the Canucks missed the playoffs – he managed to deal with them this time around, step back onto the ice and quell a Colorado storm that at one point had seven attackers bombarding him with shots.
There’s no doubt that Luongo is a top-notch goalie. But for all his accomplishments in the NHL and on the international stage, he’s still waiting to add that one piece of hardware to his collection and winning it all is what’s driving him more than anything else. We’re seeing a new Luongo this season. He’s more receptive to rest and looks more relaxed. In that regard, Schneider’s play has helped considerably. If an overworked Luongo can get the Canucks to within two wins of the Western Conference final, how much farther can a relaxed, more rested Luongo take them?